Wednesday, June 28, 2017

309. The 2017 Alphabet: I

I is for In.

In a dim corner of my room for longer than my fancy thinks
A beautiful and silent sphinx has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)
Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx was decorated by Charles Ricketts with drawings and initials; he also designed the binding. (See here for some earlier blogs about this book). 

Most initials are weird art nouveau designs, all were printed in green, but the first one was more in line with the letters that Ricketts would draw for his Vale Press books. Although The Sphinx was not published by the Vale Press, but by Elkin Mathews and John Lane at the Sign of the Bodley Head (the deluxe edition also mentioned the American publisher Copeland & Day), the book was printed on Vale Press paper bearing the watermark of Unbleached Arnold and the VP pressmark.

The initial was used one more time, more than a year after the publication of The Sphinx in June 1894. This time, printed in black, it opened a story by Walter Delaplaine Scull (1863-1915) in the fourth number of The Dial that was ready for publication in December 1895. Scull was an acquaintance of F. Seymour Haden, who was the brother-in-law of James McNeill Whistler. He was a non-practicing barrister, who used his inheritance to live independently, as a writer and an artist. In 1896 he published The Garden of the Matchboxes and Other Stories, and then moved from London to Crowborough in East Sussex. He also used the pen name Lewis Lusk.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'I' in an unopened copy of The Dial (Number 4, 1896)
(In her bibliography, Maureen Watry stated that the initial 'I' appeared for the first time in The Dial, probably because she excluded The Sphinx from her research.)